The Juggling Hoffmans

Caution: Show contains fun and excitement. Laughter may occur.

Happy Summer!

We are so happy summer is finally here! So much, in fact that we made a short video in celebration. We hope you like it!

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How to Tie a Balloon

Many of you ask me how to tie a knot in a balloon. Since you asked, I created a video just for you.

If you still have questions, post it in the comments section below. Do you want to see more? I’ll post more balloon twisting videos in the coming weeks.

Juggling & Other Impossible Tasks

Circus Arts ProgramMichael and I just finished teaching an 8-week after school circus arts program at an elementary school near our home. I taught circus arts classes in the past, although I had never done an after school program with this format. While I love teaching, the prospect of teaching Kindergarten through 5th graders was a little daunting, especially since the 20 person class skewed young. I made up a rough class schedule, recruited Michael to help and crossed my fingers that we could teach 5-11 year olds to juggle or something that resembled a circus skill.

We started the session in a hallway. Although we were offered a classroom, the desks, tables, chairs and other obstacles made the space unusable without a moving crew at the beginning and end of each day. Far from ideal, we made the best of it. At least they couldn’t wander far.

If you have ever taught children, you know there are always a few names you figure out right away. They are the ones you talk to 5 times in the first 5 minutes. They are the ones that will keep you up at night trying to figure out how to turn octopus arms into jugglers. Who doesn’t love a challenge?

And there were challenges. Some kids were painfully shy. Others scooted down the hall or hid under the lone table refusing to do anything because they didn’t master something the first time they tried. We heard from a parent that their child wanted to quit mid-session (but didn’t).  And then there were the talkers, the runners, and the “please take your hands off of him,” kids. Ask any teacher, they deal with this every single day. Thank you, teachers. You are saints.

While our framework was circus arts and our product was a show for parents on the last day, we focused on the process. Juggling is hard. Ask any person who has ever tried. You won’t be successful the first or second or third time you try. Failure is not easy to accept and especially for elementary school kids.

We focused on teamwork, each encouraging the other to do their best. We cheered their successes and raised them up when things didn’t go well. We focused on stage presence and presenting oneself as a confident person on stage and off. But, we mostly focused on a simple formula: 

Courage + Perseverance = Success

Trying something hard takes courage. Performing on stage takes courage. And they all did it. Some of them worked through fear, some even intense fear and found something in themselves to overcome it.

It is hard to keep going when you don’t get it right away. But, they didn’t learn to read the first time they picked up a book and they didn’t learn to tie their shoes the first time they laced them up. We practiced juggling every day in our once a week class. Knowing that juggling wasn’t going to be possible for everyone, we all tried balancing, swinging poi, hat manipulation and clowning. They all found their thing and kept at it. While the older kids learned to juggle balls, others learned scarves. But, everyone learned something.

I learned something, too. Kids are amazing beings. The show isn’t something we’ll take on the road. It wasn’t that kind of show. What I will take with me are the smiles on their faces when the performance was done. That sense of pride, and maybe relief, that filled them. I’ll take the hugs from the kids and the thanks from the parents. And I’ll carry the hope that they will all have the courage to try something new or something hard and keep at it until they succeed.

Worst Juggling Blooper

juggling fireOK. We aren’t perfect. We occasionally drop our props or forget our lines or start on the wrong cue. Fortunately, we are comedy jugglers and have ample drop lines to rely upon or can make the mistakes into opportunities for self-deprecating humor. This blooper was beyond all of that. At First Night Wilmington on the cusp of 1997, we share an event that was clearly our biggest blooper of all.

We arrived at the check in station in Wilmington after a long ride and performance at First Night in Dover. In Dover, we were greeted and escorted to a well-lit, well-suited space for our performance and again greeted by both a Site Supervisor and a professional Sound Engineer to set up and man a sound system for us. Not so in Wilmington.

We were on our own to figure out where to park and how to lug in our equipment. As was mentioned in a previous post, we were happy to be performing at the Christina Cultural Arts Center only to find out that while we were inside the building, our audience was outside, standing in the cold. There was a huge picture window between us and our audience. Fortunately, the organizers realized there would be an issue, so they set up a sound system for us. Unfortunately, we might have been better off if we had used two soup cans and a length of string for communication.

That set us up nicely for what we had to do to keep the audience’s attention. With lots of events and performances happening simultaneously, the fact that they had no seats and were standing in the cold, we knew we had to something special to keep our audience from walking away.

We decided to do shorter shows than previously scheduled. Getting volunteers from the audience would take a combination of sign language and charades expertise since no one could understand a word we were saying through the sound system. (Think Charlie Brown’s teacher.) We figured we had 20 minutes worth of show that included juggling and nonverbal communication and NO talking or at least 20 minutes we could fake our way through.

After searching for a while, we finally found someone who appeared to be a supervisor or at least that’s what their walkie-talkie seemed to suggest. We asked if we could juggle fire. They replied with, “I guess.” That was good enough for us.

For the cards we were dealt, the first show was going pretty well. I prepared the torches. The audience stared in anticipation. Michael nodded and we set the torches ablaze. The crowd on the street swelled as Michael did his thing with the fiery sticks. It was going great. And then…..

The smoke detectors sounded their annoying beeps and the alarm in the building blared. We quickly blew out the torches and started our walk of shame outside. It would have been bad enough if we were the only ones in the building. But, we weren’t. A crowd of about 50 people poured down the stairs. We interrupted a jazz singer, in a beautiful blue satin strapless full length gown, who was right in the middle of a set. She was not happy.

By the time we got outside, most of the crowd had dispersed. With increasing volume, we heard police and fire sirens approaching the scene. Michael tried to tell one of the fire fighters that it was just us who set off the alarm; there was no fire. The man shoved the dude with the knickers and the bow tie aside and went about his duty.

We sat down in an alley, full of embarrassment, trying to decide what we would do for a living after this.

As it turned out, the professionals cleared the building for re-entry, we performed 3 more shows that night (without the fire), and got hired again for the next 5 years at First Night Wilmington.

We don’t juggle fire that much inside anymore except for certain venues. It is ironic that libraries allowed us to juggle fire in their buildings while fire companies did not. Hmmm…

We are fortunate that we have had so many years to juggle together (20 to be exact) and perform for so many and have not once burned anything down.

JDRF Walk Video

We were proud to be part of the JDRF Walk at Christiana Mall in Newark, DE on Saturday, January 27, 2013. Each year approximately 15,000 new cases are discovered in children. We hope you can help find the cure by donating or getting involved.

The Juggling Hoffmans – JDRF Walk

Enjoy the video!

What I Learned From Learning to Juggle

Juggling LessonsBefore I went to high school, life was pretty easy. School was a breeze. Playing sports seemed natural. Art projects were part of who I was. When I hit high school, I crawled out of my happy little cocoon and realized that while I wasn’t bad at any of those things, I was really nothing special. Not the low self-esteem crawl in a closet and die feeling, but I no longer felt good at anything.

Fast forward…

I met Michael. Cute? Sure. Charming? No doubt. But, he was a juggler, too. I thought, how cool is that? I dumped my practicality compass and headed toward the unknown.

That week, I scrounged up 3 tennis balls and tried to teach myself to juggle. There was no YouTube or internet to guide me (no laughing young ones). I hadn’t seen a lot of juggling before to mentally comprehend the task before me. But, I was determined to impress Michael. 5 minutes a day for 30 days I threw those balls in the air then picked them up off the ground. I chased them under chairs and brushed off the dust balls that they collected on their journey. Even with little early success, I kept trying.

By about day 15, I could manage 4 throws and catches. It doesn’t sound like much, but that’s when I felt it. It was a transformative feeling of knowing that I was going to be able to juggle. My body and my mind  finally started singing in the same key and while not yet a masterpiece, it felt like a song.  My heart raced and, as hokey as it sounds, real joy ran through me. That addictive feeling pushed me through the next 15 days until I had the courage to show Michael. While not overly impressed with my new juggling skills, he stuck with me anyway.

It’s that feeling that I see in the eyes of people I teach to juggle. It is a universal look I see in everyone that gets to throwing that 4th throw for the first time. It doesn’t matter if they are 10 or 60 years old, it’s all the same. I’ll never grow tired of seeing that look or reliving that feeling.

Not everyone can juggle. Most people, erroneously, don’t think they can. It isn’t like running a 5K for the first time. Maybe you can run all the way, but you can run. And it’s not like writing a book. It may not be any good, but at least you can write something. You can’t juggle until you can. There is both mental and physical energy to expend in trying to get there. There is pride and self-doubt, a sink full of dishes and Survivor standing in your way. So when you do finally learn how to juggle, when you finally get that feeling, you are suddenly in a different place.

I listened to an interview with blogger and founder of Squidoo, Seth Godin. He asked the question, does what you do matter? I sure as hell hope so. I hope it matters to the people we have made smile and laugh during our 20 years of performing. But, I mostly hope it matters to the people I have taught and will teach to juggle. I said in another post that once I learned to juggle, everything else seemed possible. I wonder who else felt that, too.

If you want to learn to juggle (and why wouldn’t you), now that we are in the 21st century, there are lots of resources online. I would start with www.juggle.org . If you are near Newark, Delaware, I am teaching several classes this spring and would love to teach you, too. You can check out the details on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jugglinghoffmans/events

If you know how to juggle, I would love to hear your “learn to juggle” experience.

Worst Juggling Venues Ever

Children's performers Through 20 years of performing, we have juggled on big beautiful stages with perfect lighting, ample space and sound engineers at the ready. We’ve performed at a home with an 18-hole golf course, an estate where the mom didn’t know how many hired help she employed, and at a party so elaborate that I couldn’t imagine what they would do for the child’s 4th birthday.

Then there were the “wanna get away” times where the space or the conditions were nearly unbearable. Nonetheless, they give us some good stories to tell. In no particular order, here are our top ten worst spaces under which we have performed.

In a doorway. We performed for a birthday party at a pizza place in Chadds Ford, PA. They invited 40 people and filled a 15 X 25 foot room leaving no room for us. When we passed clubs, one of us was inside the room, one was out and could only juggle as high as a standard door frame.

In a basement with pipes hanging down to create a ceiling under 6 feet high in a box infested space surrounding us on all sides.

Upon arriving to a birthday party in the pouring rain, we were told to do the show outside. When we told them we couldn’t, they said they had no space indoor. They were nearly right. We juggled in a 8 X10 foot room with 20 people, a desk, and a TV with 7 foot ceilings.

In several spaces that were lit as if by soft candlelight where night vision goggles were warranted just to locate our props.

In an open field in Elkton, MD with winds gusting to 35-40 miles an hour. The wind sent our keyboard and stand crashing to the ground, rendered our sound system useless, and required Bernie Parent-like reflexes to prevent getting bonked in the head with the juggling clubs.

Street performing at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore when it was 98 degrees with 98% humidity at noon and nothing but pavement and brick all around. It was so hot that no one could sit on the concrete benches to watch us and I could feel my sneakers melting if I stood in the same place too long. I only wish I was exaggerating. (That was the last time we did street performing.)

Outside, next to a generator-powered moon bounce with no electricity for a sound system at a festival in North Jersey. If you didn’t know, generators are really loud.

First Night Wilmington has, by far, provided the top worst spaces/conditions under which to juggle.

In 20 degree weather when I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes despite extra socks and gloves. It didn’t help that I was pregnant at the time. I was waiting for my fingers to shatter like glass every time I caught the cold, hard plastic juggling clubs.  At least a smile was frozen on my face.

At the Wilmington Library between 2 tall shelves of books when the whole library was packed. I think we were stuck between the  book titles “Dream Careers” and “Who Moved My Cheese.”

The worst of the worst was when we were assigned the space inside the Christina Cultural Arts Center. That wasn’t the bad part. It was just that our audience was outside on the street. No problem, there was a sound system. Except, the sound system that they provided projected our voices out to the audience reminiscent of the sound of Charlie Brown’s teacher.  That night actually got worse, but that is the subject of one of our blooper posts still to come. Stay tuned.

(We performed at First Night Wilmington 8 times and we did get to perform our show in some nice venues and on some gorgeous winter nights. They just aren’t as entertaining to write about.)

After 20 years and thousands of performances, we were bound to run into a few conditions that weren’t ideal. But, as they say, the show must go on. And on they did. We still juggled. The kids still laughed. And we collected more comic stories to put in our juggling scrapbook.

Costume Changes

party entertainment

Over our 20 years performing, we have had a number of costume changes. While many are variations on a theme, there have been a few pieces that have been sprinkled in along the way. In all but the first year or two, a couple of accessories have remained constant: our Chuck Taylor Converse All-Star high tops and our black derbies. We are so attached to both, we incorporated them into our logo.

clown shoes

Our Converses have gotten more comments from more people through our career than any other thing we’ve worn. They weren’t as popular as they are today when we first started wearing them. Adults remark that they wore those when they were teenagers and kids pull up their pant legs to reveal the common footwear bond between us.

Derby hat children's parties

Our black derbies were at first a fashion statement, but have turned into an important part of our identity as well as our favorite, most portable juggling props. We started with cheap ones from Kmart and now sport 5 triple thickness, not to mention heavy, made-for-juggling derbies.

kids shows kids parties

After a year of wearing grown up clothes, like the vests, we switched to a more clown-like costume. I wore overalls while Michael wore knickers, suspenders, and a bow tie. Michael managed to trash his costumes at a twice the rate I did which forced me to spend more time doing one of my least favorite jobs – sewing.

children's shows

I have to say that my favorite material was the first one. I really like the colors. It also signified a time when we got serious about making juggling our career. (The irony is not lost on me that we got more serious as our costumes got less so.) But, it was also the costume that I wore when I was pregnant with both of my children. Fortunately, it was big enough for a 7 month pregnant body. And very fortunately, there are no pictures available to prove it.

clown overalls DSC_3396 DSC_3397 DSC_3403

To break things up, we occasionally wore these “old man” pants with suspenders. We found these size 44-short matching gems at Goodwill and just had to get them.

children's entertainers

Michael wore a shirt and tie when he juggled at more “grown up” events like at gala fundraisers or behind the bar at Café Scalessa.

birthday parties

That brings us to our current costume. We shed our clown-like costumes for a little more sophisticated fun look. I fell in love with the material then promptly turned over the sewing duties to a professional. I can see being in these costumes for a while.

party entertainment

I hope you enjoyed the journey through our costume history. Which one is your favorite?

Day One: Part Two

todayThere is another story about our first day performing together in Atlanta, Georgia in 1993. While the day was excruciating for me, Michael experienced an unexpected thrill.  In between our shows, Michael noticed a camera crew setting up nearby. With an insatiable lust for performing, Michael wandered across the park and approached them.

As he got closer, he realized that the crew was not just a local station, but an NBC Today Show crew. Not intimidated, he asked, “Do you want to film me juggling fire?”

They all looked at each other and said, “OK.”

He sprinted back to me where I stood guard over our equipment. He grabbed his torches and smiled as if he had seen Santa for the first time before sprinting back toward the crew.

I watched from across the park as he lit up his torches and went to work charming all of America. With each new take, he used his signature expressive face and talent for performing while projecting his lines, “Hi Bryant. Hi Katie. What a difference Today makes here in Atlanta.” This 5 second Today Show promo aired nationwide in conjunction with others for about a month with the most notable airing during the NBA playoffs.

Although he didn’t get paid to do the promo, the director did give him a $10 tip. It was nearly 1/3 of the total we collected that day street performing and worth the couple of hundred dollars we spent on the plane ride for the story alone. It is said that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. Michael is destined for a few minutes more.

 

The Juggling Hoffmans: Day One

The Juggling Hoffmans: Day OneMy legs were shaking.  My palms were sweating.  There were thousands of little drummers in my ears.   I couldn’t believe he talked me into this.  Everyone was staring.  I felt like a complete idiot.

“Hi, everybody!  I’m Michael!”

Please don’t say my name.  I don’t want to do this anymore.  I muttered to myself.

“And this is Lois!”  Crap.  I ran next to him on stage and tried to smile.

“And together we are The Juggling Hoffmans!”  Our arms extended into the air like we practiced a hundred times at home.  I was okay performing in front of Jiminy and Amelia, our sweetly fat and lazy cats, who just stared at us with utter indifference.  Now, in Atlanta, with 100 or more discerning eyes fixated on us, I realized the complete lack of judgment that got me there.

It’s not that I couldn’t juggle.  I just couldn’t juggle well.  With the honeymoon still lingering in my memory, my new groom, Michael got an invitation to perform at the Dogwood Festival in Atlanta.

“Let’s do it!  It’ll be fun!” Michael pleaded.

“No way!” I replied.

“You’ve been juggling for a year.  You’re ready.”

“Ready for what?  A complete surrender of my dignity?”

After several days of similar conversations and Michael’s unrelenting charm, I gave in.  The flights were booked and there was no turning back.

Piedmont Park both welcomed and taunted me. Every sensory receptor was in overdrive.  The juggling clubs in my hands appeared to be laden with lead.  The wind seemed to whip at hurricane force speeds.  And the sun’s rays were magnified as if ants were enacting revenge for a childhood indiscretion.  I knew it was going to be bad.

Soothing mantras alternated with paralyzing panic as I prepared for my first public performance since starring in Snow White in first grade.  I raised my hands to start.  Michael nodded.  Go.  Catch, catch, catch, drop.  Catch, catch, drop.  I was mortified. Drop. Would this day ever end?  As crying was not an option, I forced a smile on my face and kept going, throwing and catching, kind of.

Time stood still.  Surely, returning from Mars or waiting in line at the DMV couldn’t possibly take this long.  With each club I picked up from the ground, I wished to be swept away to a happier place.  Getting my teeth drilled while defending an IRS audit came to mind.

As the show came to an end, I was only slightly relieved.  The time for begging had begun.  It’s technically called busking or street performing.  Somehow, the fact that it was a centuries old tradition was not a real consolation. Like a seal clapping for a fish, I was begging for spare change.  When the crowd dispersed, I looked in the hat.  $3.25.

We had several more shows that day; some only slightly better than the first.  The terrifying feeling never went away. The embarrassment of dropping in front of all those people never got easier. My certainty that performing was a horrible mistake never waned.  When the last show was over at the end of the day, we packed up our things and headed for home.

I boarded the plane that day with $31.53 in my pocket.  It surely wasn’t worth the four hours of torture at the park and the three months of anxiety leading up to the event.  It wasn’t worth all of the hours I spent practicing before that call ever came.

I looked over at my husband.  He smiled at me with sincere pride, knowing well what it took to get me there.  With nothing left to hold back the tears, I cried.  I didn’t know then that I would spend more than 20 years of my life juggling as a career; that every child’s smile would fill my heart with joy; that all the subsequent drops would just turn into another chance to make kids laugh.

On that sunny, windy Atlanta day, everything changed.  Nothing would ever be impossible.  Nothing would ever be too hard to overcome.  That day, I became a juggler.  That day, we became The Juggling Hoffmans.

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